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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Republicans bias towards charter schools causes public schools to suffer

From Scathing Purple Musings

by Bob Sykes

Its appears as if some different types of school reform proposals will back taken up in the next legislative session. Will the legislature be granting some of the same “freedoms” that charter schools enjoy to public schools? Writes Allison Ross of the Palm Beach Post.

Practically since the first charters were authorized in Florida in 1996, school districts have grumbled about the flexibility charter schools have compared with traditional public schools.

Now, some school districts in the state have decided to try to get in on some of the action.

Palm Beach County and other school districts throughout the state are looking to tap into some of the breaks that charter schools get by opening their own district-run charters.

In Palm Beach County, the idea of opening a district-operated charter school is still in its infancy, but it’s one that district leaders appear enthusiastic about. They say they’re watching other school districts, such as in Polk and Miami-Dade counties, that are opening district-operated charter schools.

“We’ve kicked the idea around a bit,” said Judy Klinek, Palm Beach County School District’s chief academic officer. “There may be some freedoms we could tap into.”

Define freedoms.

The typical PR talking points are that charters have more freedom in hiring and firing, but have to hire state certified teachers. But while having to take state-wide tests, they can create their own curriculum and have the final decision regarding the length of their school day. There is no mention in the article of charter school’s notorious reputation for cherry-picking students and rotating the most troublesome students back to public schools to protect their test results.

At an rate, one key will be pressing the legislature.

The Florida School Boards Association also is expected to ask the state legislature this session to consider changing state law to lift some of the restrictions school districts have that charter schools do not.

“There’s a growing disparity between what’s considered a traditional public school, and the rigors and mandates that are imposed (on it ), versus the broad flexibility offered to charters,” said Ruth Melton, FSBA’s director of legislative relations.

She said the disparity in rules on class sizes has been a major issue. While traditional schools must meet state-mandated class-size limits in each of their core classes, charter schools are required to meet them at a school-level average instead of by individual class.

The Post went to an important GOP legislator for their story. Sen. David Simmons of Maitland called for a special session in July to restore education funding. Here’s what he told the Post yesterday.

Sen. David Simmons, R-Maitland, head of the education appropriations committee, said he has been approached by school districts proposing legislation to provide them with greater flexibility.

He noted that traditional public schools serve the “vast majority” of Florida’s student population. About 2.65 million Florida students attend public schools, with less than 155,000 of those attending charter schools.

“We don’t want to do anything that’s going to diminish the accountability that school districts have,” Simmons said. “At the same time, I want them to have as much flexibility as possible to do the same thing charter schools do, which is to innovate.”

It’s disappointing that Simmons would use a corporate reform buzz word like “innovate.” But to bring proposals like these to the public can illustrate what Florida taxpayers are getting – and losing – through the republicans clear bias in favor of charter schools.

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